After an intense year and overheating in the steamy city most of the summer, I’ve crash-landed among an Amazonian proportion of maple, pine, and oak trees. I’m reclining on the porch of my childhood suburban home, my head spinning from a year of long-distance marriage and nearing the finish line of my Masters degree. A hummingbird’s wings whirl past me before its needled bill dips into a fire engine red feeder to sip organic brown sugar. This feeder has become a mid-air refueling station for these birds—as they pass up neighboring watering holes with refined sugar—and a point of pride for my mother who is confident they instinctively know quality.
Scattered on the porch table, the newspaper headlines declare institutional meltdowns. As a Penn State alumni and self-employed female business owner (with pre-existing conditions) who needs affordable health-insurance options, I’ve had to think through the role of community and identity. After unpacking many of their issues around food, my clients often discover what emotionally derails them is a community closer to home: their social network.
So what happens when you’re changing but your friends and family aren’t interested in eating black bean brownies?
Unlike high-fructose corn syrup these “friends” aren’t overtly toxic, instead they’re like the sugar and unhealthy oils that lurk in dressings and sauces. In small doses, these encounters won’t inflame enough to halt your weight-loss but over time they have a corrosive effect. Be on the lookout. Have you ever had a friend encourage you to get frozen yogurt and then proceed to spend the whole time making gossipy judgments of other women that you can’t help but see yourself in? Enough! These seemingly innocuous encounters will heat up your emotions enough to a boiling point. In fact, social network studies show obesity spreads more between social networks than spouses or parents.
The U.S. default mode is overweight and unhealthy. It’s time to analyze your communities, not calories (my favorite Swedish saying “only dead fish go with the flow” comes to mind). Our greatest fear? Being alone. That’s the most common reason people drown in toxic relationships. But if you aren’t acknowledged and accepted for who you really are, then are you truly in these relationships? What can possibly feel lonelier than being with someone and not being accepted? By staying in these disingenuous relationships, you sabotage health goals and the connection you desire.
So how to begin detoxing from these friends or communities that aren’t supporting your new vision of yourself? Let’s begin:
1. Ask yourself: Would I rather be right or happy?
All my clients say happy. I bet you would too. One belief that keeps people stuck in toxic or mediocre relationships is needing to feel needed and thus, never alone. Being right may make us miserable, but we feel safe, even in bad company. But if you answered happy, you need to be willing to challenge those beliefs.
2. Find a new community, in-person or online, where the bond feels nourishing. Special bonus: the more offbeat your hobby or values, the stronger the bond.
I’ve started going to events with other women business owners. Our nontraditional lifestyles have so much in common that our bond is immediate. One of my clients connected a group of disparate friends over a common hobby of scrapbooking. Now instead of meeting three separate people for happy hours, she saves calories and has the deep connection she was seeking. Another client has created a mastermind group of women facing similar career challenges. She is contributing and being appreciated for her talents and the group instills confidence to help her reach career goals. The emotional safety from these self-created communities has uplifted to dodge the inevitable curveballs that came their way and negated the need to drown out their anxiety in a bag of tortilla chips.
3. When first transitioning social networks, it’s not so much about cutting off your old network as much as adding new people in. While forming new habits and beliefs, best to keep inflammatory people to smaller portions and load up on healthier relationships—just like adding healthier foods before cutting out the junk.
Part of my clients’ success is that I meet them where they are. I suggest the same for you. Accept the amount of support you currently have. Rarely do you or your communities change overnight. Change is a process. Many of my clients are pleasantly surprised at the relationships that come along for the ride as they make significant positive changes (and their bond becomes even stronger than before). Like hummingbirds, we feed best on quality over quantity.
I’d love to hear from you. Has your social circle helped or hindered in your health goals? Any ideas on how to approach candid conversations with friends and family? How to find supportive relationships? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments. It will help all of us.
PS- Dates for the Truce with Food group program are set. Enrollment begins mid-August (I’ll send an email to notify newsletter readers so you can have first dibs). New this time around are two weeks of private group coaching for even more individual attention. Plus, I’m adding some new tools that’ll build upon the incredible results of past participants. Check dates and testimonials here.